Fly-by: The Dickies

Sorry for another fly-by folks…between Day Jobbery and feeling absolutely knackered the last few days, I don’t have much energy to post anything too intensive.

That said, I’ve strangely been on a Dickies kick lately.  Not sure why.  I think it’s that their quite excellent cover of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” popped into my head the other day.  They’re part of that early 80s Silly American Punk scene that gave us bands like Blotto and The Meatmen.

Here’s a few choice cuts I think you’ll like… 🙂





Two hours into the future…30 years later

120 minutes logo

The original late-80s opening I remember so well

Over the last few weeks, there’s been an uptick of newly uploaded videos on the 120 Memories YouTube channel that feature almost-full episodes of the venerated show.  There’s a few other channels out there showing partial episodes (usually the host segments but no music videos) like MrBriefcaseTV2 and other users.  There’s also the great reference website The 120 Minutes Archive, which provides extensive playlists of nearly every episode*, and links to the videos if they’re available.

* – Back when this site was first being built sometime in 2004 or so, I still had a lot of my old VHS tapes with many of the episodes, so I was able to provide them with a lot of playlist information.  A lot of the 1987-1989 episodes have my name listed on the site.

It’s fun watching some of these now, nearly thirty years later…

For instance, I remember watching the above episode as Dave Kendall (at that point still only the producer and doing the countdowns and new releases) featuring a segment on the then-new Sisters of Mercy album, Floodland.  Even though he treated it in his usual over-the-top way, dripping with snark and pomposity and just a hint of humor, that segment actually convinced me to go out and buy the album.

I’d say Kevin Seal was my favorite host, considering he played it like the student doing a show on college radio: the barest of preparation, rehearsal or professionalism, but he was having a hell of a fun time doing it.  It also helped that he was also the class weirdo out of all the veejays there at the time.  Dave Kendall was the station manager, doing what he could with what little he had on hand, more focused on providing awesome music than decent production.

Those early years were definitely lo-fi.  They’d become more slick during the early 90s when Nirvana & Co came in, followed by the Ultimate Music Nerd in the shape of Matt Pinfield in the mid to late 90s.  But those early years, that era from 1986 to about 1990 when it was still all about whatever was playing on college radio at the time, that was where it worked best.  It was the visual equivalent of turning on your favorite college station for two hours after everyone else had gone to bed.

Meanwhile, 30 years ago…

Status: back half of sophomore year in high school.
Writing: finishing up the Infamous War Novel; starting Belief in Fate; trying out various ideas but not getting too far with them.
Radio: splitting time between college radio (WAMH and WMUA), AOR (WMDK and WRSI), rock (WAQY and WAAF), and a few pop stations.
TV: Still watching USA Network’s Night Flight occasionally. Taping episodes of 120 Minutes and watching them the following afternoon, plus numerous rewatches of Monty Python and other British alternative comedies.
Personal: single and sick of feeling sorry for myself; getting rid of my 80s spiky ‘do and letting my hair grow out a bit; just about sick of these damn braces.
Social: bouncing between two different social circles.
Music Collection: Approximately two milk crates full of vinyl, a small collection of singles, and a quickly growing cassette collection. At least a few dozen ‘radio tape’ mix tapes at this point.

Listening to…

…which, if you think about it, is not that different from the sounds I’m currently listening to.  🙂

A stranglehold on a certain feeling

As I dive once more into the 80s music nostalgia, one band I plan on checking out is Ultravox.  I’ve always heard great things about them (both the John Foxx and the Midge Ure years), and I even owned the greatest hits and Vienna albums, but I never actually sat down to listen to them very closely.  Chalk it up to being one of those bands I’d hear on the radio or MTV but could never find their stuff at the mall.  [And when I did see them at the various record stores, often I’d be reserving my money for something else I was looking for.]

This past Christmas I finally got their box set The Albums 1980-2012 (aka the Midge Ure era), and during our visit to southern California this past weekend, I stopped in at Amoeba to pick up the John Foxx era box, Island Years.  These cover all but two 90s albums (Revelation and Ingenuity, essentially keyboardist Billy Currie with a newer lineup) and only the latter box contains single sides and ephemera, but th0se are easily acquired online if I’m further interested in completing the discography.

I do love the career-spanning box sets, especially the ‘album collection’ ones, as it gives the new listener — or like me, the once-passive fan who wants to hear more — the ability to check out a band’s discography at a relatively decent price.  I’ve bought quite a few of these over the years: Roxy Music’s The Complete Studio Recordings, Nilsson’s The RCA Albums Collection, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions’ Collected Recordings 1983-89, and The Boomtown Rats’ Classic Album Selection, to name a few.  Not all of them are complete (there’s often a few items missing, like a cover or a live track or a b-side), but they’re complete enough to provide an excellent overview.  Sure, they can be expensive, but sometimes you can find a great deal.  Some are even available as mp3s, cutting the cost almost in half sometimes.

I’m looking forward to listening to these two Ultravox boxes!

Down the Rabbit Hole Again

Every time I think I’m escaping the rabbit hole of 80s college rock and moving on, I end up slinking back in again!  Well, this time I’m not working on a related writing project…I’m just enjoying the music this time out, while I wait for new releases to come out.

Plus, I get to listen to some of my radio mixtapes from back in the day!  It was a little over thirty years ago that I decided to put a blank tape in my Jonzbox and let it record 30 to 45 minutes of whatever WMUA was playing that evening, just to get a taste of their playlist.  I’d just bought a six-foot retractable antenna for the radio, which boosted the signal considerably, so I could go nuts at any time of day.  Soon I’d expand to other stations, with WAMH becoming my home base for the rest of the decade.

By early 1987 I’d changed things up in my bedroom.  It had gotten a new coat of paint, I’d gotten rid of some furniture I’d grown out of, and my radio had moved across the room to the top of the bookcase, where the few books that I had were slowly being shoved out to make way for my growing cassette collection.  I was hanging out with the Vanishing Misfits gang, which meant that a goodly amount of my collection at the time was borrowed albums dubbed onto tapes of questionable quality and age.  But hey, as long as I had the tunage, that’s all that mattered!

Interestingly, I only made one college radio tape that year, but I think it was because all my hard-earned money was going to buy albums down in the Pioneer Valley!  I did make a few mixtapes that year, though, mainly commercial radio stuff, but by the end of that year I was itching to make more.  I had one of my buddies who was into the hardcore punk/metal scene (he also introduced me to Slayer’s Reign in Blood…at catechism class, no less!) make me a mix on the back of a cassette dub I had of The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland (my favorite album of the moment and possibly my number 2 favorite of the year, just under Music for the Masses).

Thinking back, 1987 was definitely a sea change year on multiple levels for me.  Changes in friendships, tastes in music, personal and emotional outlook.  My writing was still crap, but it was better crap than what I’d been writing just a few years earlier.  Hell, I was even changing the way I looked, letting my hair grow longer (no more 80s spike, thank god), wearing concert tees and pins of alternative bands.  Taking myself a bit more seriously.  Sure, I had a hell of a lot more growing up to do, but that was the year it took hold.  I was no longer the annoying nerd trying to fit in.  I was the kid with the Walkman, listening to bands you’d never heard of.  I was the kid who spent his study periods in the library, writing away in a notebook.  It was the year I’d finally figured myself out and didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it.

 

The Joshua Tree Turns 30

I remember when U2’s breakthrough album The Joshua Tree came out, because it wasn’t just the usual music nerds like me that were eagerly awaiting for it; most of the guys I knew on my high school football team couldn’t wait to get their hands on it!  That was certainly a change.  Usually the jocks’ tastes in music and my tastes never crossed paths at all.

It could be that the teaser single, “With or Without You”, was such a huge hit that resonated with pretty much everyone.  I think there was also the fact that their previous  releases — the atmospheric The Unforgettable Fire from 1984, the excellent but far too short live album Under a Blood Red Sky from late 1983 and the amazing War from earlier that same year — were big favorites on MTV and rock radio.  And that classic performance at Live Aid in the summer of 1985 had given them a big ol’ boost as well.

I remember not being overly excited about the release at first.  Sure, I loved U2, but I wasn’t a hardcore dedicated fan yet.  In fact, I was more focused on the new Siouxsie & the Banshees cover album (Through the Looking Glass) that was released around the same time.  But I went ahead and bought it anyway, ordering the cassette from the BMG Music Club, and deemed it worthy of repeated listens.

It wasn’t until that summer, around the release of the third single “Where the Streets Have No Name” that the album really clicked with me.  I’d started hearing more deep cuts from the album being played on WAAF, WAQY and other New England radio stations as well.  The drifting beauty of “One Tree Hill”,  the barely restrained anger of “Bullet the Blue Sky”, the pastoral melancholy of “Red Hill Mining Town” (the last of which reminded me of the dead-end feeling I was having about my home town at the time).

The album kicked off such a storm of excitement that their tour ended up being THE EVENT TO SEE.  Sadly, I would never get to see them live until nearly ten years later for the PopMart Tour, but my sisters did get to see them down in Worcester for this tour, much to my extreme jealousy.  Numerous parts of the tour stops were filmed for what would end up being the documentary Rattle and Hum, released in 1988 complete with soundtrack and new songs recorded on the road.  And a little over ten years later, they’d resurrect and re-record one of the b-sides for “Streets” and release it as a single for one of their greatest hits mixes:

I’d revisit the album numerous times over the years: a constant soundtrack during my post-college writing years and even more during the Belfry years; talking with my then-girlfriend about how the album was sequenced into a specific flow of sound and mood; a constant replay when the band released their (almost) entire discography on iTunes; while working on my Walk in Silence project.  I’ve never grown tired of it.

*

Thirty years on, this album is still considered a classic.  U2 themselves are celebrating its anniversary with a tour of North America and Europe, playing the album in its entirety.  I doubt I’ll be going when they stop by Santa Clara in late May, but I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic show.  [For a brief moment I thought hey, maybe they’ll come to Outside Lands!…and then I realized they’ll be wrapping up their European leg about the same time so I doubt they’ll be in the mood for trekking all the way back to California by that time.  Wishful thinking, though!]

1987

Thinking about some of the great musicians we lost this year, I realized that Bowie, Prince, and George Michael all had career-changing releases in 1987.  It was probably the last year I paid any significant attention to commercial rock and the countdown charts before I sold my soul to college radio, but I still kept my ears (and eyes) open for the big names at the time.

David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down (released 27 April 1987) was a big seller but had a mixed reaction from its critics.  Having spent most of the 80s recording catchy but less-than-adventurous chart rock, after this album he’d work with Reeves Gabrels and Hunt and Tony Sales to form Tin Machine — an often maligned side project, but in my opinion a much needed boost to his creativity.  He’d follow up in the 90s with much stronger albums and critical success.  It took me a while to warm up to this album, as I too felt Bowie had fallen into a bit of a rut and was going through the motions, but in retrospect it’s still a solid album.

Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (released 30 March 1987) is one of my top favorite albums of his, and its creation story is even more fascinating.  Known for creating multiple side projects that may or may not come to fruition, Prince took the best parts of his Camille project (recording under a different name, an altered voice, and an even more androgynous image), the last dregs of two aborted projects with the Revolution before he ended that group (Dream Factory and Crystal Ball), and filled it out with his own solo tracks to create a fantastic double album full of funk, pop, psychedelia, rock, and even a few of his patented weird psych-outs.   I always felt this album was the point where he’d left his over-the-top 80s pop persona behind and became more serious about his music.  He’d hit a few more roadblocks and make a few more wrong turns, but by the early 90s he’d hit his stride and become an even bigger star.  I still listen to this album, it’s that damn good.

I remember hearing American Top 40 premiering George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” single in the summer of 1987 and being blown away by it — the lite-pop production of Wham! was long gone (it had started slipping away with his “A Different Corner” single from spring 1986) and replaced by HUGE sounds and a hell of a lot of funk, and I loved the sound of it.  Radio and fans wondered what he was going to do next, having completely shed the goofy fun of his previous band.  His solo debut Faith (released 30 October 1987) was the result: mature, intensely creative and absolutely amazing.  I chose “Father Figure” here (even though the single dropped in January of 1988) because it’s my favorite song from the album…it’s a gorgeous and stunning ballad and I love the sparse-yet-cavernous sound of the production.